Charlotte Danielson, a former economist and internationally-recognized expert in the area of teacher effectiveness, shares her thoughts in Education Week about teacher accountability and how teacher evaluations can be restructured to ensure that teachers can take advantage of professional development opportunities to refine their craft. Below is an excerpt.
“The idea of tracking teacher accountability started with the best of intentions and a well-accepted understanding about the critical role teachers play in promoting student learning. The focus on teacher accountability has been rooted in the belief that every child deserves no less than good teaching to realize his or her potential.
But as clear, compelling, and noncontroversial as these fundamental ideas were, the assurance of great teaching for every student has proved exceedingly difficult to capture in either policy or practice.
The immediate challenge is that those with the responsibility to ensure good teaching in schools—primarily building administrators—don’t always have the skill to differentiate great teaching from that which is merely good, or perhaps even mediocre. This idea was highlighted in ‘The Widget Effect,’ a 2009 report from the organization TNTP that had enormous influence on the design of Race to the Top, the federal initiative that required states to implement rigorous systems of teacher evaluation to qualify for billions of dollars in federal grant money.
There is also little consensus on how the profession should define ‘good teaching.’ Many state systems require districts to evaluate teachers on the learning gains of their students. These policies have been implemented despite the objections from many in the measurement community regarding the limitations of available tests and the challenge of accurately attributing student learning to individual teachers.
Even when personnel policies define good teaching as the teaching practices that promote student learning and are validated by independent research, few jurisdictions require their evaluators to actually demonstrate skill in making accurate judgments. But since evaluators must assign a score, teaching is distilled to numbers, ratings, and rankings, conveying a reductive nature to educators’ professional worth and undermining their overall confidence in the system.
I’m deeply troubled by the transformation of teaching from a complex profession requiring nuanced judgment to the performance of certain behaviors that can be ticked off on a checklist. In fact, I (and many others in the academic and policy communities) believe it’s time for a major rethinking of how we structure teacher evaluation to ensure that teachers, as professionals, can benefit from numerous opportunities to continually refine their craft.
Simultaneously, it’s essential to acknowledge the fundamental policy imperative: Schools must be able to ensure good teaching. Public schools are, after all, public institutions, operating with public funds. The public has a right to expect good teaching. Every superintendent, or state commissioner, must be able to say, with confidence: ‘Everyone who teaches here is good. Here’s how we know: We have a system.’ There is professional consensus that the number of teachers whose practice is below standard is very small, probably no more than 6 percent of the total, according to the Measures of Effective Teaching study and others. It’s essential, therefore, that school districts ensure that every teacher who receives a continuing contract demonstrates adequate knowledge and skill to promote student learning. In most districts, this is the purpose of the tenure decision, although in some cases that decision falls to the state, thus ensuring a consistent standard of teaching across the state for all career educators. Ohio has done this with its Resident Educator Support and Assessment Program.
‘A comprehensive personnel policy must not only ensure good teaching on the part of every teacher, it must also ensure opportunities for ongoing professional learning by all teachers.’
Given this landscape, it makes sense to design personnel policies for the vast majority of teachers who are not in need of remediation. And, given the complexity of teaching, a reasonable policy would be one that aims to strengthen these educators’ practice. Personnel policies for the teachers not practicing below standard—approximately 94 percent of them—would have, at their core, a focus on professional development, replacing the emphasis on ratings with one on learning.
So what do we know about professional learning?
Read more of the article, Charlotte Danielson on Rethinking Teacher Evaluation, at EdWeek.org